On Friday, 28 February, the Filipino hero from Team Lakay dominated large portions of the bout in his return to featherweight with aggressive grappling combined with hard ground and pound.
Banario’s Thai opponent responded with a few kicks that connected clean on the chin, but it was not enough to stop “The Rock” leaving the Singapore Indoor Stadium with two of the three judges’ scorecards.
Following his first win in the division since his reign as ONE Featherweight World Champion in 2013, the 30-year-old from Benguet reveals what he had to do to get his hand raised, his assessment of his weight class in 2020, and what he plans to do next in ONE Championship.
ONE Championship: What was the experience of competing in an empty arena like?
Honorio Banario: For us, it was not that unusual. Since our training and sparring sessions are behind closed doors as well, it felt like any other day in training so there was less pressure.
In a crowded arena with all the cheers of the fans, it’s difficult to pick out what the coaches are saying. I guess the positive thing about the empty arena was that you could clearly hear the tips that the coaches were saying during the match.
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ONE: How are you feeling back at featherweight?
HB: I felt good. I feel lighter and better. I think I was able to bring my power with me, and I was able to control him and take him down at will.
Even if I didn’t have a perfect performance, I was still able to implement our game plan properly. I’m happy with my performance in my first match back here, and I’m sure that the next time I’m competing, I’ll improve more because I had a good start.
ONE: What was your strategy against Wiratchai?
HB: He is a southpaw, so when he made a step, I needed to take a side step to the left earlier than him so that I could strike first.
I’m used to catching kicks as well, so that’s what I prepared for, together with takedowns and ground control. From what we saw from his previous bouts, we could attack his takedown defense, and he gets tired when he tries to escape from the ground, so that’s what we did throughout the match.
We wanted to neutralize his striking. We wanted to put pressure on him by pushing him to a corner, and when he’s tired, go for a takedown. Once there, we wanted to keep him there. They weren’t stopping me from standing up with him if I could, but when he was connecting with some kicks, I tried to close the distance.
ONE: Did you have to adjust your strategy when you were in the Circle?
HB: Not much, really. I had a lot of help from my teammates who converted to southpaw during sparring so that I could get a better feel of going up against one.
It helped me a lot because by the time I was in the Circle I was already used to moving against a southpaw.
ONE: He hit you with some good kicks, were you affected by those at all?
HB: [I felt them] when they hit me, but I don’t think I felt rocked by them. I was able to tolerate his punches because I think he was rushing his punches so he wasn’t able to put too much power behind them.
He couldn’t get the right timing for his punches. I think he still has power, but not as heavy as some of my opponents in the lightweight division.
ONE: You showed more wrestling and ground scrambles during this match. Are we going to see a bit more of this side of your game moving forward?
HB: I really want to show everyone how much I’ve improved my grappling. I hope that in my future bouts, people will not only get to watch out for my striking, but my ground game as well.
We need to evolve because the competition is only getting better. I want to add more skills to my arsenal and keep up with new styles. Back at lightweight, I was easily taken down to the ground, so I made it a point to improve my ground game.
I worked on it for a long time, and I was finally able to utilize it in this match. My next goal is to improve my submission skills to become a more well-rounded fighter.
ONE: After the match, you took your time getting up from the top of Shannon. Can you share what you talked about?
HB: I know that he’s coming off a tough stretch of losses, and we both came into this bout carrying that burden.
I tried to motivate him to come back stronger and keep training hard. I know very well the feeling of doing everything you can to get back on the winning side but still coming up short. Other athletes would feel like quitting already, so I wanted to encourage him.
ONE: Were you surprised when you heard that the judges were split?
HB: Personally, I was fully confident that I was getting a unanimous decision, so I was surprised at the split decision. I didn’t think there were decisive shots landed on me, I was able to retaliate every shot made, and I had firm control on the ground.
Maybe the judge felt I didn’t do enough, or that Shannon did more, but at the end of the day, we’re only looking to improve. So, my coaches and I discussed what else we could do better next time around, just took the win, and moved on to the next one.
ONE: The featherweight division looks a lot different from when you were on top of it. What do you think about the current state of it?
HB: Right now, I feel like the division is stacked with talent. Most of the guys here are finishers, so it will be interesting to be matched up with any one of them in the future.
Some of the matches I watch end up with first-round stoppages. They’re really strong, so I will continue training well because we’ll never know what kind of opponent we’ll be matched up against.
ONE: Are you looking to compete against anyone in particular?
HB: Not right now, because I just got back here and I’m just trying to climb back up the ranks. I’m not the type to pick out who I want to match up against, so I’ll just take on any challenge that will be put in front of me.
ONE: We hope this be the last time an event will take place in an empty arena. Do you have a message for our fans during this difficult time?
HB: To everyone who’s experiencing the effects of the virus, I hope that we all get through this and that this ends soon.
I hope everyone would not give up fighting the challenges it brings us. We need to be tough in life so that we can overcome challenges – these challenges help us to learn and grow as people. Stay positive, and God bless everyone!